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Raising a Generation of Digital Citizens

Digital citizenship is a multi-faceted and essential piece of student curriculum, says Mike Ribble, the district director of technology for the Manhattan-Ogden school district in Kansas and author of multiple books on the subject.

Teaching kids to be responsible digital citizens goes beyond just talking about cyberbullying, Ribble explained in a session here at the ISTE conference in Denver. It also includes subjects like sexting, texting while driving, illegal downloading, and understanding what's OK to share and what information should remain private. "We have so much technology, but do we use the tool between our ears?" Ribble asked. Considering how young kids are when they start encountering technology, the conversations need to start at home, said Ribble, but there's a big role for educators, as well, in teaching students how to be ethical and responsible users of technology both in and out of school.

One way to prepare students to be good digital citizens is to start scaffolding the curriculum into subject areas, said Ribble. He proposed starting by talking with kindergarteners about digital communication, reaching digital rights and responsibilities by 4th grade, and even dealing with issues of digital commerce by the time students leave middle school. All the subjects in the scaffolded curriculum should be touched on each year, but by focusing on one area per year, students can begin to dig into the more complex subjects at appropriate times, says Ribble.

For further reading, Ribble recommended the report "Youth Safety on a Living Internet," written by the Online Safety and Technology Working Group. Also, parents may find resources about how to talk to their children about digital citizenship at the DigiParent social-networking site.

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